Nancy Roman

The Patron Saint of Nonbelievers

I used to describe myself, as “Spiritual, but not religious.”

That sounded so nice, but it really had no meaning. I wasn’t a worshipper of spirits or a believer in any other-worldly things. I guess that, loosely translated, it meant that I was a moral person, because I knew that I was happier good than guilty.

But as much as I am not very religious (meaning not at all), my mother-in-law was. Lola had little prayers in her shaky handwriting taped all around her house. I especially liked the one taped by the toaster. I love toast, and certainly that toaster made excellent toast.

She died ten years ago, at aged 83. She needed surgery to which she would not consent.

“I’m not afraid of dying,” she told me a few months before she passed away, when I was once again trying to encourage her to have her throat repaired.

“That’s good,” I said. “Because we are all going to die. I just don’t understand why you want to rush it, when you can be with us a little longer, and you can be just as unafraid of death in a few years.”

But there was no changing Lola’s mind. She was stubborn and controlling and believed in herself as much as she believed in God. I remember years before, when her new neighbors planted a shrub right on the property line.

“Don’t worry,” Lola said. “I am just going to wait and see if I like it. And if I don’t… well, you know, it just… won’t take.”  And she winked at me.  That poor shrub died before the year was out.

My mother-in-law liked me well enough. I think what she liked most about me was that I was married to the person she liked best. She once served us homemade pierogi for lunch – one for me, six for my husband.

I was raised a Catholic. And though I was quite pious as a child – I used to love to say the rosary – it didn’t stick as I became an adult. But as agnostic as I was, I still have the urge to pray. It’s what you do when you want something – right?

Prayer didn’t really work so hot for me, though, and I couldn’t really blame God for not paying attention to me, since I hadn’t paid much attention to Him in many years. But sometimes I still want something. Since my mother-in-law prayed all the time, I figure she had me covered.

And after she died, I thought perhaps she might have even more pull than before.

The first time I tried her, it was for something common. Pain relief.

I was undergoing some difficult oral surgery. Nothing hurts quite so much as dental pain. I couldn’t focus – the pain was so intense. “Please, Lola,” I prayed to my husband’s mother in heaven – who I figured was ordering God around. “I need this pain to go away.”  And to my surprise, it did. Half an hour later, the pain was gone. Completely.

Wow, that was weird; but in a good way, I thought.

Shortly after that, my husband and I threw a big party. We had built our beautiful house, which was finally finished, and wanted to celebrate. We pulled out our wedding invitation list, and combined it with our Christmas card list, and added in all the subcontractors who worked on the house too. And planned a huge picnic. We called a caterer. We made our own little miniature golf course.

And it poured. It rained so hard that morning the windows steamed up and the yard added a few water hazards to the golf course. And the caterer called to tell us to come pick up the food. Food for 75.

So I prayed to Lola.  “We have so many people coming and so much food. Please stop this rain.”

And she did. Our guests told us that they drove to our house in a complete deluge – until they got to our road.

I knew I had stumbled onto an amazing secret weapon.

I’ve been careful over the years though. I don’t want Lola to think I am pushy or demanding; she may decide to go help someone who doesn’t nag. So I only ask for important things and things that are out of my control. I figure if I can accomplish something on my own, I’d better not call in a prayer. But a sick relative, a friend who needs a job – Lola hasn’t yet let me down.

But this week I asked for something a bit more trivial. I went shopping after dinner on July 3rd. I tried on dozens of summer-y outfits, as the weather had heated up, and my clothes run towards cardigans and skinny jeans (as you know). I had great luck, and found quite a few terrific bargains.

And when I got home I had only one earring. One favorite earring. My husband bought these earrings for me for Christmas –  antique medallion earrings with dark sapphire stones.


I love them. I wear them at least once a week. They cost more than five times what all those new summer clothes cost. What a horrible trade-off.

The store was already closed. The next day was the Fourth of July.

I checked the internet. The store was going to be open on the Fourth.

I went to bed feeling sad and sick.  On top of the loss of a precious gift, now I would have to return all those damn clothes, because every time I wore them, I would be reminded.

I prayed to Lola.  I knew this wasn’t an emergency, and it was my own fault that I lost the earring. So I offered a trade-off.  A little something that Lola might want in return.

The next morning I called the store before they opened, and the manager answered. No, they hadn’t found any earring. I told her I would come down anyway. My husband drove me there, and we searched the parking lot. Nothing.

We banged on the door about ten minutes before they were due to open, and the manager let me in. “We’re cleaning now,” she said, “but we haven’t found anything.”

“Please let me check the dressing room,” I said – already running past her.

And there it was. Right there. On the floor of the cubby I had used.

“I found it! I found it!”  I showed the manager. I showed my husband. I showed the guy with the big broom.

And the manager shook her head. They had already cleaned the dressing room. It hadn’t been there.

That Lola is really good.

But of course, this Sunday I had to live up to my end of the bargain.

I went to church. I made my husband come with me.

“I promised your mother,” I said.

And did I wear those very special miraculous earrings to church?


The goddamn ungrateful bastards slept in.



  1. Smiling that you found your earring.


  2. Praying helps! Glad you found your earring.


  3. It was kind of you to let your earring sleep in. Not everyone would have done that!


    • I think that they must do some time in the prison-drawer.


  4. Happy you found your earring. I adore sapphire. I lost a gold earring and was sick. Found it in bed. Yay. Go figure about Lola. I can only shake my head and be happy for you.

    This is your funniest post in a while, Nancy (not that I don’t enjoy them all). Loving it.


    • I lost a little diamond stud last year, and was reluctant to tell my husband. Two days later it was in plain view on the floor in my walk-in closet. It had to be Lola – who I think told the cat to stop playing with it.


  5. mo

    Sometimes praying to someone you know feels more real than praying to someone or something you don’t know. I have had similiar experiences, and one of them involved earrings! Lovely post.


    • You’re right – I feel more comfortable asking Lola than asking God.


  6. Wow! Your mother-in-law is the ultimate secret weapon. And your post is another roll-on-the-floor hilarious thing. I truly look forward to everything you write.


    • Thanks. I’m glad I make you roll on the floor. (or even chuckle a little to yourself.)


  7. I see a “not quite old” shop in which you sell a line of lola paraphernalia: tiny statues of lola with a gold plate adhered to the bottom that says “patron saint of non-believers.” silver (plated) charms of lola’s head. tiny pocket-sized rocks with the head of lola painted on them. cards with lola’s photo on them and a prayer on the flipside. people. will. line. up.


    • What a fabulous idea! I can have the toaster prayer printed up.


  8. I’d say Lola must have loved you as much as she liked you (even if she did give her son five more pierogi – that’s just a ‘mom’ thing). And I’m glad she is making her appearance when you talk to her. As for the ungrateful earrings – my hunch is that they’re still your favorites. Great post.


    • My husband did not even notice that my lunch was a wee bit skimpy.


      • Of course not – he was too busy being mothered..;-)


  9. There’s no doubt she loved you, too 🙂

    Wonderful post, didn’t see the twist coming – funny!



    • Imagine my husband’s surprise when I informed him that I promised his mother I would take him to Church.


  10. I’m not religious either…something about organized religion makes me go “feh” but I do believe in instances like these.


    • I’m mostly a nonbeliever – but I believe that Lola is looking out for me.


  11. I was with you the whole time on the Lola thing, but when I got to the last line I bought a jersey and committed to your team. Irreverence of the highest order-how I respect you for that! 🙂


    • I don’t believe you should take religion too religiously.


  12. your earrings slept in? why am I not getting this?


    • I may be attributing motives to the earrings that they did not really have. On the other hand (or ear) perhaps they needed some alone time after being separated.


  13. Strange things sometimes.
    An earring determined to stop hanging around and roll out on its’ own is no match for Lola.
    (That earring deserves some time in lock up….mom always said, “if you have energy to stay out late, you have energy to get up for church.”)


  14. I have a Lola, too. But I don’t have a toaster prayer. I think I need one of those.


  15. I think Lola and my step-mother must be in cahoots somewhere up there. I suspect also your MIL loved you more than you know.


  16. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a toaster prayer, but I’m sure there’s one for every situation. Glad you found your special earring!


  17. Anybody who can make dental pain go away deserves cannonization. I’m heading off to the dentist shortly …


  18. How clever of Lola to be able to keep an eye on things for you. All you have to do is ask…she will right there all the time. Unlike the bush, she “did take”.


  19. I’m not really religious, but sometimes I pray to whoever might listen! Glad praying to Lola helped you find your earing!


  20. james

    What a storyteller you are! Thanks so much and glad you’re finding God in your own way. That’s awesome =D Who knows maybe one day everyone will be praying to Saint Lola for intercession. She seems like she is a real character. lol


  21. Cute story but I don’t understand the last line at all.


  22. Johnny Geyet

    Iwas at war, the one everyone hated, I spit on when I got home made pretty mad was called a baby killer only killed 1 young one about 9 years old he was as big as his AK shot him 3 times the marine captin I was with said john it was him or you. One time we (there were only 5 of us) what we did we could nit talk about it for 35 years, we were all snipers we were not to engang. That didn’t always happen were would set up 400 to 500 yards away. If there was a camp we would sneak in and get all the info we could. I had had lost my faith a few years before, we came under fire a few timrs and had to get out I was tailend charle and 1 time I had 14 holes in my gear not even a scrach + 1 bullet in my flak jacket this waa the second time this happend the captain said he knew how I felt but he wasn’t goig to more then 10 feet from me. I still have problems with religion, but I guess I have an angel with me. I was in the Navy only 1 month training, been shooting since I was 6 had my own weapon so I knew how to kill. I don’t anymore unless it needs killing.


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